Not Taking Enough Creative Risks? Try Parkour
The first time I tried a lache, or swing, in parkour, I fell flat on my face. Hands torn, shins bruised and ego battered.
Three years ago I spent the spring searching for an alternative fitness activity, something that would finally hook me in. I didn't know at the time but I think the brief to myself, in my head, was, "Like yoga, but insanely tiring and outdoors. Or anything but the gym." I tried some mad things, from trampolining to krav maga (the ClassPass app really is wonderful!). Then I stumbled across parkour. It intrigued me, the discipline of "moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping and climbing." I wanted to be a traceur!
These days, I generally don't need to explain what parkour is to my friends. What was for a long time a niche, even nerdy pastime has surged in popularity. As with most things that capture the collective imagination, its rise was significantly boosted by the movies. In 2004, the French film Banlieue 13 cast parkour at the center of the story, but it was the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale that took it to the next level. Its popularity continues to rise, and parkour content regularly goes viral now on TikTok.
But even at the time, I had a sense of the sport and was keen to give it a go. Back to that first session—I thought I needed to prove myself, to show I could keep up. I misjudged it—the swing, but also the community I was surrounded by. By the second lesson I realized parkour is not a sport exclusively for competitive, adrenaline-seeking youngsters but one that is incredibly multi-generational and non-judgmental. I didn't need to show off. All I had to do was step back and learn from the amazing range of people there.
It was the first of many lessons the sport has taught me. We all obsess over keeping up with the young'uns, and that mindset bubbled up in me that day. But parkour reminded me that demographics are meaningless. In fact, as digital creative director at strategic design agency Bulletproof, it is something that comes up in our work. Demographics are becoming increasingly sidelined in brand strategy, with focus shifting more on personality and attitudes.
There are many such lessons—and parallels—between parkour, life and work. Since that first faceplant, it has been incredibly helpful in shaping the creative I am today.
Take the agility of mind that the practice requires. Mapping out your route is fundamental to parkour, especially when you're leaving the training ground for the outdoor urban environment. But once you start running, things can change mid-air. Someone else might cross your path or the environment could shift unexpectedly. This reflects closely what it's like to be a creative director in the digital space—you're essentially building a plane while flying it. As a project progresses, parameters shift, technology changes overnight, platforms wane or come to the fore. So, in my sport and my work, I'm training the same mental muscles, one benefiting the other. This mindset also helps me design for real people—those who will live the brand experiences we create. Some creatives only design for the "happy path," making basic assumptions that life goes like clockwork. Not me.
It is also a perfect complement to the type of creative I am. From day one I've been split down the middle. Taking fine art and physics made complete sense to me at school, and using both sides of my brain has always been my focus. Parkour lends itself perfectly to that. You need the technical aspects of the sport, but also the flourishes. It is not creative in the sense that you're making something, but rather it's like choreographing a dance—you're manipulating something for an artistic result. As a digital creative director, I do the same. I present a journey of the digital and physical, the beautiful and the technical.
I'm convinced parkour also makes me more creative. The practice requires you to look at your environment in a different way. Instead of interacting and maneuvering through the world as some architect or city designer wants you to, you do it your way. Stairs? No thanks! A dinky pedestrian bridge? I'll just jump over this gap and swing under this rail. Every fence, wall, or space becomes an opportunity to try a new move.
But most significantly, in a world where work-life balance is constantly being weighed up, parkour is the perfect barometer for my wellbeing. I remember a week that had been particularly intense at work, and when I got to the parkour gym, I had lost all confidence in my jumps. Parkour was saying to me, "Mate, you need to slow down and reset." Sure, parkour can give you a physical injury, but you tend to recover from those, and they strengthen your mind. But in this case, and a few times since, parkour has prevented me from injuring myself in other ways—from burning out or letting stress get on top of me.
I might still land flat on my face occasionally, but those mistakes only make me stronger and braver. They also make me realize that while parkour might not be for everyone, it certainly shares some valuable universal lessons—ones that might inspire us all to take some more ambitious leaps.